Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton from New York holds a press
conference on Iraq on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Clinton, fresh from
a tour of Iraq, blasted US President George W. Bush's plan, saying it
would not stem the raging sectarian violence. [AFP]
WASHINGTON - A US Senate
resolution opposing President Bush's war plan on Iraq put the White House and
Republican leaders on the defensive Wednesday as they scurried to prevent a
trickle of GOP support for the measure from swelling into a deluge.
to avoid an embarrassing congressional rebuke of the president's new war
strategy, the administration seemed to hint that the effort - led chiefly
by Democrats - might somehow be of assistance to terrorists.
They also herded GOP skeptics to the White House, where they tried to allay
the concerns of Republican lawmakers including Sens. John Warner of
Virginia, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Susan Collins
"What message does Congress intend to give?" asked White House spokesman Tony
Snow. "And who does it think the audience is? Is the audience merely the
president? Is it the voting American public or, in an age of instant
communication, is it also al-Qaida?"
Initially announced by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin,
D-Mich., and possible 2008 presidential candidates Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del.,
and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., the non-binding resolution states that "escalating the
United States military force presence in Iraq" is not in the national interest.
Bush has proposed adding 21,500 US troops to the roughly 132,000 already in the
Moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, also quickly signed on.
Hagel's and Snowe's support for the measure is a major victory for Democrats,
who believe their support will open the door for other Republicans to jump on
board and challenge Bush.
The resolution does not call for a withdrawal of troops or threaten funding
of military operations, as many Democrats have suggested. Instead, it says the
US should transfer responsibility to the Iraqis "under an appropriately
expedited timeline" that is not specified.
Republicans who attended the White House meetings said they emerged
unconvinced more troops were the answer in Iraq, but were unsure whether signing
on to the resolution was the answer.
Underscoring the GOP effort to keep its troops in line, many of those same
members were invited Wednesday evening to meet behind closed doors with Senate
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has threatened to filibuster the
As the White House sought to stave off a major showdown between the
administration and Congress on Iraq, GOP members who support Bush's plan drafted
House GOP leaders introduced a bill that would protect funding for US troops,
while Senate Republicans prepared a resolution that would voice support for
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the Senate Republican resolution would say
the Senate believes the war in Iraq should not be lost "and this strategy could
bring about success if properly supported."
Warner is considering an alternative proposal that could attract GOP
attention. Rather than denouncing the president's strategy, Warner's resolution
would voice support for recommendations by a bipartisan Iraq Study Group. That
panel urged a withdrawal of US combat troops by early 2008, and did not
recommend sending more troops unless specifically requested by a military
In a statement announcing her decision to co-sponsor the Democratic-led
resolution, Snowe said, "Now is time for the Congress to make its voice heard on
a policy that has such significant implications for the nation, the Middle East
and the world."
Hagel stood alongside Democrats in a press conference vowing to "do
everything I can to stop the president's policy," adding, "I think it is
The resolution makes two underlying points: that sending more troops is the
wrong approach and that a political solution is needed to end the violence. The
draft document also says the main mission of US troops should be "a transition
to helping ensure the territorial integrity of Iraq, conduct counterterrorism
activities, reduce regional interference in the internal affairs of Iraq, and
accelerate training of Iraqi troops."
Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said his panel
will debate the measure on Jan. 24, the day following Bush's State of the Union
address. A swift committee review would pave the way for debate on the floor as
early as that week, although Democrats say it is likely Republicans on the
committee will want to make changes.
Biden said "modest changes" to the bill might be used "to attract those who
share our view but may not like our specific language."
The resolution backed by Biden and the others could help Democrats measure
GOP support for more aggressive legislative tactics, such as cutting off funds
for the war.
"Just how serious this resolution is, although it's not binding, is reflected
by the fact that the Republican leader in the Senate has threatened to
filibuster it," said Levin.
Many Democrats want to go much further and are expected to try to amend the
resolution on the floor. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said he wants
legislation capping the number of troops in Iraq at existing levels - a
plan that attracted support from Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who has his own
bill threatening funding of troops.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., on Wednesday announced her legislation
that would require Bush to obtain congressional approval for additional troops
in Iraq if the Iraqis cannot show progress after six months.
"I do not support cutting funding for American troops but I do support
cutting funding for Iraqi forces if the Iraqi government does not meet set
conditions," Clinton told reporters after returning from a trip to Iraq and
Dodd and Clinton are among several Democrats with 2008 presidential